David Kamper: Government and abortion

Monday, December 4, 2017 - 3:18pm

Today, many people say America is more divided than ever. We see it in our discourse, the slurs thrown at one another, the struggle for moral high ground and even the violence in our streets. When I see this, I lament the lack of interest in nuanced conversation and appreciation for context in every discussion. I welcome and continue to engage with truly different perspectives from my own. 

Though, when I do try to reach across the aisle to my more conservative friends, the complex personalization of our discourse and reliance on platitudes has made me realize that why we have different viewpoints, particularly in how we view the role of government, is unclear. There lie the age-old questions we saw during the Constitutional Convention: How large should the federal government be and, more importantly, how should one define its role? Through my conversations, I began to think a lot about what our government’s role should be, and I think the answer might lie in how we should approach issues like abortion.

As I have written about previously, I am a practicing Catholic. Many of my family friends are consistently single-issue voters on a pro-life view. Though I am a moderate liberal, I have come to the conclusion that I am both pro-life and pro-choice. Now don’t be confused: This isn’t, and shouldn’t be, perceived as a black-and-white issue.

If I were sitting at an abortion clinic, discussing with my partner if we should consider getting an abortion, I would strongly lobby against doing so. This is because my decision would be based on my personal beliefs as a Catholic and someone who sees life separate from consciousness. Now this is all predicated on the notion that I was given the choice between moving forward in the procedure or stopping it.

However, when approaching policy, matters of reproduction and intimacy are, as Tim Kaine (a “traditional Catholic”) explains “moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves.” And this is just it: I should not develop policy simply based on my personal identities and issues. If I were a politician, I would approach my issues through logic and rationale, entirely separate from my identity as a Catholic or any other personal identity. Since we work as a society dependent on common ground, my identities should not be the entire basis for rationale in a political sphere, and nor should the id be a guiding principle in policy development.

Therefore, I arrive at this question: Is abortion a right or is the right based on the choice between receiving or not receiving an abortion? I would think it is the latter. This is where, I posit, we arrive at this notion of government: Its defining role (other than protecting the public) is to offer the easiest access of choice to the general population, which upon given a range of options, can then incorporate their personal identities and beliefs. This isn’t just for abortions; it should be for guns, health care and a variety of other issues. This is why pro-choice should exist: so that there is an even playing field and the decision for the best course of action can be left up to the couple or individual.

However, is the playing field actually even? Well, as abortion clinics are increasingly closing their doors, one can easily make the case that in some states, the playing field is not equal. Though much of this can be attributed to pro-life movements within state legislatures, I do question the general role of government in funding. One comment I hear my conservative friends (men and women) say is that they shouldn’t have to pay taxes that subsidize abortions.

Though I might disagree on the notion that their personal identities as a part of a particular religious group should influence their decision, I recognize, in a light similar to Citizens United, that their money is “donated” against their free speech to support a procedure they vehemently oppose. They should not have to give money to an organization that directly contradicts their very sense of self, as if they are “forced” to “donate” to such an effort.

Say ideally, then, these abortion clinics weren’t closing. The next question we should ask is: since it is the government’s responsibility to offer an ease of options to the individual, whether, if some tax dollars were removed from the funding of such programs, the ease of options for the individual would significantly decrease. It is well-documented that 49 percent of people who seek abortions are below the poverty level, obviously unable to pay up to $1,500 for an abortion. But how do you confound the fact that these individuals who are pro-life are paying taxes to subsidize abortions?

Last year, Planned Parenthood made a net income of $77.5 million, with 41 percent of its revenue (the largest amount) coming from the government: mostly through Title X and Medicare. It is important to recognize that only about 3 percent of the budget goes to abortion services. Complete removal of federal funding would significantly skew the playing field, since private donations only constitute 33 percent. The choice would be forced by lack of access: It should be entirely based on one’s personal beliefs, context and ideology.

While this means there might be issues leveling the “playing field,” it certainly seeks to balance that with not having those staunchly against abortions pay taxes to that go toward these services. Obviously, abortion clinics could work simply based on donation and external affiliates; I would suggest that government stay entirely out of the debate entirely. Nevertheless, the solution, in my mind, can be only two-fold: that government remove itself entirely or we have to accept that the ability to choose is part of a social contract everyone has to accept.

I would argue, given the former is certainly more difficult in maintaining this balance, the latter is the only solution at this moment. Moreover, when taking into account only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s work (328,348 total) is abortion services, I can better reconcile this notion. I recognize my decision is based only in the event of such an issue. My intent isn’t, and shouldn’t be, to impose personal identity on the decision process of others. The foremost priority is to maintain the balance of choice, then in a predicament where an abortion is contemplated, personal identity may enter.

David Kamper can be reached at dgkamper@umich.edu.